ABC Special Touts Sex Changes as Normal

Barbara Walters's latest news special, “What is a Man, What is a Woman? Journey of a Pregnant Man,” was an almost completely one-sided tract in favor of transgender marriage and parenting.

Walters interviewed three people who have undergone sex change operations, but no relevant medical experts, psychiatrists or students of culture and society.  Walters apparently selected the only critics to appear during the special, comedians poking fun  and an anonymous caller leaving a hateful telephone message, to suggest that opponents are motivated by bigotry.

Last Friday evening ABC's 20/20 aired the special, which focused on the story of Thomas Beatie, the pregnant “man” who made headlines last spring.  Beatie, whose birth name was Tracy LaGondino, has had surgery and hormone treatment intended to make her resemble a man.  Newsbusters' Scott Whitlock noted that ABC has devoted over an hour of airtime to Beatie and her partner Nancy since they announced Beatie's pregnancy last March, thirty-three of which aired during Friday's special. 

Walters also featured another woman who gave birth to a child and later became a “man,” as well as a man who changed into a “woman.” 

Stephanie Brill, a nationally recognized midwife who specializes in helping gay, lesbian and transgender people have children, was the only representative of the medical community featured in Walters' special. Brill told Walters that the Beaties are, “helping us to do is understand that the face of the family is changing.  It's been changing for a long time, and each time that something pushes the edge of that family, our society at first tends to think it's wrong.” 

Brill then noted that she had delivered a baby from a transgender “man” eight years ago, indicating that “men” get pregnant more often then people think.

Beatie and Nancy also expressed concerns about the labels on their daughter Susan's birth certificate and the custodial problem that could arise.  The state of Oregon refused to allow Beatie to be listed as Susan's father, stating that whoever gives birth is listed as the mother, and changed the labels from mother/father to parent/parent.  Beatie told Walters she and Nancy are trying to fight this “because in essence, they are invalidating [their] marriage.” 

Suzanne Goldberg, a law professor at Columbia University and director of the university's Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic, told Walters, “It doesn't matter, legally, if one adult is called a mother or a father. Those are social categories. But they don't have legal meaning in this context. It is very, very hard for me to imagine that this marriage would ever be challenged because of the birth certificate.”

Walters interviewed no biologists about the physical consequences of changing sexes.  She interviewed no psychologists about the mental and emotional ramifications of having sex change operations, or of being raised by a transgender parent.  She never raised the issue of possible adverse societal implications or moral concerns.  The only dissent featured in the special came from clips of entertainment shows that mocked Beatie's pregnancy and also an angry message left on their answering machine:

God made you a woman, that's what he wanted you to be.  God does not make mistakes.  And plus, you're not even considered a man.  You're an it.  And the state of Oregon should take that baby away from you.  You sickos.   

Walters did ask Beatie probing questions such as, “If you wanted to be a male, why didn't you have your female reproductive organs removed?,” but failed to challenge Beatie when he replied, “I don't feel like removing your sexual reproductive organs will make you any more of a man or any less of a woman, vice versa.  I just don't see it that way.”  Even her tough questions were designed to be knocked out of the park:

BEATIE:  I used my female reproductive organs to become a father.

WALTERS: Aren't you trying to have it both ways?

BEATIE:  Well, first of all, what would be wrong with that? I'm not trying to change people's minds. I'm just asking them to open them.

And what about the effects transgender parents have on their children?  When Walters asked, “what happens when people make fun of” their daughter because of her parents, Beatie equated having transgender parents to having red hair:

That's never a good reason to not have a family. But children get teased for all kinds of reasons. Red hair, two mommies, it doesn't matter. We'll have to raise her with enough strength and resilience to withstand anything the world throws at her.

Walters did not point out that red hair is an uncontrollable genetic trait, but two adults can decide whether to bring a child into an abnormal family situation. 

Walters also glossed over this issue in her interview with Andy and Leif, the other set of parents in which one is a transgender “man.”  Andy was born a woman, married Leif, gave birth to their four-year-old son Antonio, and transitioned to being a “man” a year after Antonio's birth.  

ANDY: Antonio's seen pictures of us together with him as an infant where, before my medical transition. And he recognizes me. He says, 'there's Daddy, there's Poppa.' So he just sees me. He doesn't see the gender.

WALTERS: The couple hopes their example will broaden our notions of what constitutes a family.

LEIF: I don't think there are parenting issues or family issues that are different because one of us has transitioned genders. I think issues are always the same. How do you deal with finances, how do you deal with providing education for your child. Those are the central issues to keeping a family together.

In the final moments of the special, Walters used the Beaties to accomplish her real objectives, to “broaden our notion of what constitutes a family” and to preach tolerance:

WALTERS (voiceover): What is the significance of a pregnant man? In the end, that is up to each of us to decide. But whatever you think of the Beaties, their goal has been clear from the start.

WALTERS: What do you most want people to know and understand about you?

NANCY: I just wish that people could be more tolerant to different types of families and I want them to know that we love each other, and we're going to love this baby.

BEATIE: You're not living a full, authentic life unless you're being true to yourself. In this life, we get to choose who we want to be and how we get to live our lives. And that includes being a pregnant man. 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center